Sophie de Condorcet

Sophie de Condorcet

Sophie de Condorcet (1764, Meulan – 8 September 1822, Paris), best known as Madame de Condorcet, was a prominent salon hostess from 1789 to the Reign of Terror, and again from 1799 until her death in 1822. She was the wife and then the widow of the mathematician and philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet, who died during the Reign of Terror. Despite the death of her husband, and the disgrace and exile of her brother Marshal Emmanuel, Marquis de Grouchy between 1815 and 1821, she was well-connected and influential before, during, and after the French Revolution. As a hostess, Madame de Condorcet was popular for her kind heart, her beauty, and her indifference to class and social origins. Unlike her fellow-Girondist hostess Madame Roland, her salons always included other women, notably Olympe de Gouges. She was, however, also a writer and a translator in her own right, very well-educated for her day, and completely fluent in English and Italian [] . She produced influential translations of Thomas Paine and Adam Smith.


She was born Marie-Louise-Sophie de Grouchy, daughter of Francoise Jacques Marquis de Grouchy (a former page of Louis XV) by his intellectual wife Marie Gilberte Henriette Freteau (d. 1793).

Marriage to Condorcet

In 1786 Sophie de Grouchy, then 21 or 22, and an acknowledged beauty, married the famous mathematician and philosopher Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (17 September 1743-28–29 March 1794) [] [] ; he was then 42 and was Inspector-General of the Mint and a prominent French Academician. Although he was twenty years her senior, the two shared many intellectual interests, and had a strong and happy marriage.

After her marriage, she started a famous salon at [ l'Hotel des Monnaies] [] , opposite the Louvre, while her husband was Inspector-General of the Mint, and later at the Rue de Lille, Paris, that was attended by, among many others, many foreign visitors including Thomas Jefferson, [] the British aristocrats Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, David Murray, 2nd Earl of Mansfield and the 7th Viscount Stormont, the economist Adam Smith, the Marquis de Beccaria, Anne Turgot, the writer Pierre-Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais, the pamphleteer Olympe de Gouges, and the writer and hostess Madame de Stael, and also many French philosophers. This salon played an important role in the rise of the Girondin movement that stressed the rights of women.

Sophie de Condorcet allowed the Cercle Social — an association with the goal of equal political and legal rights for women - to meet at her house. Its members included women's rights advocate Olympe de Gouges who had published the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen". It has been argued that Sophie de Condorcet's own interest in women's rights were responsible for her husband's arguments for greater rights for women in the ten-pages-long essay "Sur l’admission des femmes au droit de cité" (3 July 1790). Unfortunately, this essay had little influence in its day, being overshadowed by the more passionate essays by British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (who visited Paris from 1791 to 1793) and Olympe de Gouges; the latter certainly attended Madame de Condorcet's salons.

The Condorcets had a daughter Louise Alexandrine de Condorcet, called Liza or Eliza, who was born in 1790. Eliza survived the French Revolution, along with her mother.

Condorcet's Proscription and Death

Claire Tomalin's "The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft" mentions their sad history. Condorcet denounced the new Jacobin constitution which had no safeguards of the kind envisaged by Condorcet and the Girondins, and then fled into hiding with a woman friend for eight months. His wife continued to visit him secretly. Sophie de Condorcet, along with his friends, encouraged the proscribed Condorcet to continue to write while in hiding. During this period 1793-1794, he composed his most famous work -- the "Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Progrès de l'Esprit Humain". He also wrote "Avis d'un Proscrit à sa Fille" for his young daughter.

After Condorcet was proscribed 3 October 1793, he asked his wife to divorce him in 1793 to protect their family assets for their daughter. (A webblog on Sophie claims that [ Cabanis] urged this measure on the husband and wife, and that the divorce was applied for on 14 January, 1794). However, the divorce came through only after his mysterious death in prison. Condorcet lost his nerve, and fled his friend's roof believing that his presence had been detected. He went to other friends who refused to shelter him and then ordered a twelve-omelette breakfast in a village. [] The suspicious peasants handed him over to the authorities, and he was found dead after the first night in prison. Although he might have died of hardship or other natural causes, most historians today believe that he poisoned himself, possibly with the help of his sister-in-law's lover Cabinis. . [] [,+marquise+de+Condorcet/Sophie] According to Tomalin, Sophie was not informed about his death until several months later.

Sophie had his last works published posthumously, starting with the Sketch or Equisse in 1795. []

Life after Condorcet's death

Madame de Condorcet was rendered penniless by his proscription and his death came before their divorce which had been requested precisely to avoid such an eventuality. Her financial circumstances compelled to support not only herself and her now four year old daughter Eliza, but her younger sister, Charlotte de Grouchy. She was obliged to open a shop to survive, putting aside her writings and translations.

After the end of the Jacobin Terror a few months later in Thermidor year II (July 1794), she published a translation of Adam Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments" (1759) in 1798, adding eight letters, "Lettres sur la Sympathie", commenting upon this work; this work became the standard translation into French for the next two centuries. Until recently, her eight letters on sympathy were however ignored by historians of economic thought, and have not yet been translated into English. (See an essay about the letters [ here] ). In 1799, she also arranged to publish her husband's "Éloges des Academiciens", and was finally able to revive her salon at the former home of another salon hostess Madame Helvétius (d. 1800)at Auteuil (Guillois 1897, pp. 94, 177). []

She co-operated with her brother-in-law the philosopher and doctor Pierre Jean Georges [ Cabanis] (who had married her sister Charlotte some time between 1794 and 1800), and with Joseph Garat in publishing the complete works of Condorcet in 21 volumes between 1801 and 1804. [] She adhered to the last to the political views of her husband, and under the Consulate and Empire, her salon became a meeting-place of those opposed to the autocratic regime. Sophie de Condorcet survived the French Revolution, the Directory, the era of Napoleon, to witness the revival of reaction under the restored Bourbons.

Life in the Napoleonic regime

She remained active as a salon hostess, and in promoting her late husband's political views. She never remarried, but she did establish a long-term relationship with the French historian Claude Charles Fauriel (21 October 1772 - 15 July 1844) that lasted until her death. Fauriel's Wikipedia entry states that he gave up all his energies to love, friendship and learning, and that the salon of Madame de Condorcet was a rallying point for dissenting republicans.

Sophie de Condorcet died at Paris on the 8th of September 1822. [] . Even at the end, she was determined to preserve Condorcet's memory through his works, and was preparing to bring out a new edition. [] . According to Tomalin, she had the will and intelligence, but not the stamina, to lead the French women's rights movement.

Daughter Eliza Condorcet-O'Connor

Her daughter Eliza (or Liza, or Elisa), who had been born in 1790, survived to marry in 1807 an exiled Irish revolutionary Arthur O'Connor (1763/5-1852), [] [] later called General Condorcet-O'Connor, (born in Mitchelstown, in County Offaly), who was almost as old as her late father Condorcet. Her husband achieved some standing with Napoleon; curiously, his wife's maternal uncle Grouchy had commanded that abortive invasion of Ireland in 1796-1797.

Elisa and Arthur Condorcet-O'Connor took over where Sophie left off, [] and published her father's works in 12 volumes in 1847-1849. According to one site, Elisa and Arthur left descendants who have served as officers in the French army until recently. [] .

External links

"Sophie de Condorcet"
* [,+marquise+de+Condorcet/Sophie Sophie's biography]
* [ Bibliography on Sophie de Condorcet] .
* [ Sophie de Condorcet] . French wikipedia entry.
* [ Sophie de Condorcet] , with a full description of her childhood and encouragement to study, in French. (The same history can also be viewed [ here] , and [ here] .
* [ of Sophie de Condorcet]

* [ Condorcet biography] from Wikipedia, in French
* [ The Marquis de Condorcet] .
* [ Account of Condorcet's life, months in hiding, etc] from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica encyclopedia.
* [ Account of Condorcet's last months and death] in French.

"Grouchy, Sophie's brother"
* [ Marshal de Grouchy] , Sophie's younger brother, French wikipedia entry.

* Unknown. [ "Women of the French Revolution"] describing the role of the aristocratic salons in fostering political dissidence in the 1780s and 1790s. Also see Sophie de Condorcet's comment to Napoleon on the role of women in politics []


"These are all in French, and have been listed for further reading."
* Madeleine Arnold-Tétard, "Sophie de Grouchy, marquise de Condorcet : la dame de cœur", Paris, Christian, 2003
* M. d’Arvor, "Les femmes illustres de la France : Madame de Condorcet (1764-1822)", Paris, P. Boulinier, Librairie Moderne, 1897
* Thierry Boissel, "Sophie de Condorcet, femme des Lumières, 1764-1822", Paris, Presses de la Renaissance, 1988
* Antoine Guillois, "La marquise de Condorcet: sa famille, son salon, ses amis, 1764-1822", Paris, P. Ollendorff, 1897
* Charles Léger, "Captives de l'amour, d'après des documents inédits; lettres intimes de Sophie de Condorcet, d'Aimée de Coigny et de quelques autres cœurs sensibles", Paris, C. Gaillandre, 1933
* Jules Michelet, "Les Femmes de la Révolution" [ available from Project Gutenberg]
* Henri Valentino, "Madame de Condorcet; ses amis et ses amours, 1764-1822", Paris, Perrin, 1950

"These are in English."
* Barbara Brookes, "The Feminism of Condorcet and Sophie de Grouchy", 189 Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 297-361 (1980).
* Karin Brown, "Sophie Grouchy de Condorcet on Moral Sympathy and Social Progress" (Dissertation, City University of New York, 1997).
* Steven Kale, "French Salons: High Society and Political Sociability from the Old Regime to the Revolution of 1848". The Johns Hopkins University Press (March 8, 2004)

Fictional representations

* [ Sophie Gay] , 1776-1852, "Ellenor" in two volumes, published 1854 [ volume 1] and [ volume 2] from Project Gutenberg. A fictional work that mentions Madame de Condorcet and her family and circle several times.
*Marge Piercy. "City of Darkness, City of Light." New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996. 479 p. ISBN 0-449-91268-X LCCN 96-24748. Describes Sophie's salon, her husband's political views, and their strong relationship.

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